How do you make people listen to what you say and respect what you do?

When I taught eighth-grade algebra, I had a class that didn’t respect me. They chatted through my lectures. Being a new teacher, I had been given advice from  an experienced teacher to,”never let them know they are getting to you.” So I kept a lid on my emotions and tried various carrot and stick approaches to no avail.

Finally one day, I slammed my Masonite clipboard across the back of a chair cracking it in two. It was the first time in over a month that I had their attention. I ranted about their bad behavior until I calmed down.

Then I said, “I don’t know what I did to get off on the wrong foot with you guys, but why don’t we start over? This will be like the first day of class. We won’t do any math. Let’s go around one at a time, say your name and tell us what you like to do for fun. Is this OK with you?” This is how we spent the rest of the class. From that day forward, they were one of my best behaved classes.

My take away from this is that it is difficult to come up with universal rules to make people listen to you and respect you. The conventional wisdom in this situation was to”never let them know that they are getting to you.” I did the opposite by losing it.

Losing it in a big way did a few things. It interrupted their habitual behavior, got their attention and showed that I was a human being with limits. I also believe the shear magnitude of my outburst showed strength.

However, that by itself probably wouldn’t have been enough. I then acknowledged the problem without needing to know the cause. I proposed to start over, leaving everything that had transpired in the past. There was no shame or blame. I got them to buy into the process when I asked, Is this OK with you?” and they agreed. “We then built rapport with each other by sharing what we did for fun.

This was not planned. It was spontaneous and in the moment. I don’t know if I would be able to do it again. Things just clicked.

  • That being said, I believe having clear goals are important. I wanted to teach those kids and they finally got that.
  • It is important that others know that you have their best interest at heart.I think stopping the lecture when it wasn’t working and establishing a human connection showed that.
  • It is important that you don’t engage in finger pointing. I avoided this by letting go of the past and moving forward.
  • Whenever possible get others to “buy into” the program. When you ask, they feel respected. It builds rapport, because they feel like part of the process. If they agree, they share ownership and responsibility. If they say no. You have opened the channels for communication.
  • If they say no, address their concerns until they can “buy into” the program. This was easy with my class because I proposed not doing any math and letting them talk about them selves.
  • Build rapport. People want to feel connected. Sharing what we did for fun created that connection
  • Acknowledge your limitations. You are a human being. You don’t know everything. The best leaders have advisers. If you try to be a perfect, know-it-all, all-powerful, fearless leader, people will resent you.
  • Treat them with respect. If you don’t, they won’t respect you.

There will be some people who will not respect you no matter what you do. Accept it and do the best you can if you have to work with this person.

©2016 Stephen L. Martin

Painting: Socrates Teaching Perikles by Nicolas Guibal


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